Having devoured the Bible’s contents regularly and often during the seventy years since I gave my young life to Jesus, what surprises could possibly still lie undiscovered in any single chapter of the good book, especially in the Gospels? Recently I have been reading my Bible in daily chunks comprising several chapters, my eyes alert to any recurring words or phrases that might disclose intended thematic connections I had hitherto missed. Only a small chunk of John’s Gospel remained one morning, yet I felt that I should stop at John 20:30 and ruminate on what I had already devoured, saving John 21:1-25 for a lite-bite spiritual breakfast the next day.
For a change I decided to read chapter John 21:0 from my interlinear Greek/English New Testament, taking it slowly to be able to taste the ingredients that I might miss if I gulped the passage from a well known translation. And, boy! didn’t the verses just zing with flavours? Here are a few details that I found to be very relevant to our local church.
Discovery 1: The Lord knows their situation
The bewildered, disoriented disciples felt bereft of Jesus’ constant company since his capture, trial, death, burial and even his resurrection. So they unanimously decided to do what they used to do best, and set off on a nocturnal fishing expedition. However, it proved to be a fruitless venture. As they headed for the shore, a voice from there wafted over the water asking a negative question: ‘Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?’ ‘No,’ they called back, wondering how that guy knew this (verse John 21:5).
Discovery 2: The Lord IS still involved in their lives
Although the narrator writes the story in past tenses, every reference to Jesus is in the present tense (e.g. ‘the disciples did not know that it is Jesus’, verses John 21: 4, 7, and 12,). Similarly, when we go through a barren and bewildering phase, Jesus ‘IS’; he’s no ‘has been’, or merely ‘an historic figure’. He told them where to cast their net, which they did immediately and successfully (verse John 21:6)
Discovery 3: Their smallness was no disadvantage to their future success
John here uses a diminutive Greek noun for boat – ‘the … disciples came in the little boat, dragging the net … full of large fish, 153 of them’ (verses John 21:8, and 11,).
Discovery 4: Peter, the restored backslider, wanted Jesus more than he wanted the miracle of fishes – he got out of the boat and swam to the shore (verses John 21:7–8)! But he came straight back to add his brawn to the struggling team. Indeed, John makes it seem as though Peter landed the haul of ‘large fish’ on his own (see verse John 21:11).
Discovery 5: Evangelism is incomplete without ongoing pastoral discipling …
Three times Jesus bade Peter the fishnet hauler to feed his flock. First time, indicating priority, he told him: ‘Feed my lambs’ (verse John 21:15). Then twice he exhorted him: ‘Tend/Feed my little sheep’ (verses John 21:16–17). Compare that to the requests: ‘Feed my puppies while I’m away’ and ‘Take care of my doggies.’
… especially of those young in Christ as well as those young in years.